High blood pressure, or hypertension, is so common that it can kind of seem like no big deal. After all, one in every three U.S. adults is living with high blood pressure. But this seemingly small condition can have serious consequences, like heart disease, heart attacks and strokes if left unchecked.
Typically, when you’re diagnosed with hypertension, doctors will prescribe a combination of medications and lifestyle changes. And while some of those changes are simple healthy habits, actually seeing your blood pressure decrease can be a real challenge. Small, subtle habits and behaviors can hold you back, without you even realizing it.
Are you making subtle mistakes that are messing with your blood pressure? If you notice any of the following five mistakes in your daily routine, you just might be.
1. Consuming too much salt
This is an obvious mistake, but it’s one that can be hard to avoid. Salt consumption is a major contributor to hypertension, and a high-sodium diet can ramp up your blood pressure – especially over years and years of eating salty foods.
But while cutting back on salt is often a doctor’s first recommendation for fighting hypertension, salt is sneaky. It’s in just about everything, and plenty of foods have hidden amounts of salt. This means you might think you’re taking steps to reduce your salt intake, but what you’re eating is actually still super salty.
While plenty of high-sodium foods are found on restaurant menus (the CDC estimates that 25 percent of a person’s sodium intake comes from restaurant food), some just might be hiding in your own pantry. More than 40 percent of the sodium we consume every day comes from some pretty shocking sources, including bread, eggs, chicken and cheese that include additional salt or are salted during meals. Even sandwiches are loaded with salt, especially if you’re using deli meat.
So, while you might think that you’re making low-sodium choices when you enjoy scrambled eggs for breakfast or a slice of toast on the side, you just might be upping your salt intake with every bite.
How to Avoid This Mistake: To combat this mistake and lower your blood pressure, keep an eye on your daily sodium intake. Always opt for lower-sodium or low-sodium foods and meals, if possible. Take a close look at the nutritional labels on any packaged products and foods you buy, and make sure you avoid anything with a “reduced sodium” label. And instead of dining out frequently, make the majority of your meals at home. That way, you’re in total control of the amount of salt that’s added during the cooking process.
2. Not drinking enough water – or drinking too much
Hydration is essential regardless of the state of your health, but it turns out drinking just the right amount of water is key for blood pressure. Drinking too much water can actually increase your blood pressure, but so too can drinking too little.
If you’re even mildly dehydrated, research suggests that your blood will thicken, blood flow will become more difficult and your blood pressure will rise. And if you’re overdoing it by drinking way too much water, you’ll essentially waterlog your cells, making blood flow throughout your body more sluggish and strained.
To avoid dehydration and overhydration, you instead want to aim for the sweet spot of proper hydration. According to the Mayo Clinic, women should get 11.5 cups of water daily, while men should drink 15.5 cups. If you’re active, you may need more; if you’re less active, you may need a little less.
How to Avoid This Mistake: To lower your blood pressure, you’ll want to stay well-hydrated. While regular, plain water is a good choice, it’s also important to remember that all beverages that contain water count towards your daily hydration goals. That means you can sip on sparkling water, iced coffee (or regular coffee), tea and other beverages if you’re bored with plain water. Just avoid sugary drinks!
3. Eating dinner too late
Have you been eating dinner late in the evening after extra-long days at work or running errands? You’re sabotaging your blood pressure without even realizing it.
The timing of your nighttime meal might not seem like a major factor at first glance, but research shows that when you eat is just as important as what you’re eating. According to a study funded by the American Heart Association, participants who ate a late dinner – “late” meaning after 6 PM – that included 30 percent or more of their total calories for the day saw a 23 percent increase in their risk for hypertension. They were also more at risk for obesity, a condition that’s often linked to high blood pressure.
The study’s researchers explained that eating the bulk of your calories before 6PM each day may be connected to better cardiovascular health. With blood pressure as one of the primary factors in good heart health, eating late dinners just might potentially increase not only your risk for high blood pressure but also your risk for other cardiovascular dangers.
How to Avoid This Mistake: You can easily eliminate this mistake and potentially lower blood pressure by changing your schedule. Eat dinner earlier rather than later, when possible. However, if you don’t want to eat an earlier dinner, you can also plan your meals so you aren’t eating 30 percent or more of your total daily calories at night. You can balance your meals and snacks, or focus on taking in the majority of your calories before 6PM. Opting for nutrient-dense foods rather than calorie-heavy foods with little nutritional value may also be a helpful strategy.
4. Staying inside all day long
You know that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for your overall health – but did you know that staying inside and away from the sun all day long is bad for your blood pressure? It turns out getting outside can actually have a heart-improving impact.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, exposure to sunlight (and specifically, UV rays) is associated with lower systolic blood pressure levels. While researchers are still unclear why, exactly, the sun’s UV rays might have a positive effect on hypertension, there are plenty of other health reasons to spend time outdoors and in the sun. You’ll get a boost of vitamin D, reduce stress, improve your mood and reap the benefits of simply getting outside regularly.
How to Avoid This Mistake: Step outside! You don’t need hours of sunlight exposure in order to fight the potential negative effects of sitting indoors all day long. Just 10 to 30 minutes per day is enough. You can relax outside, take a walk or even work out to get a little more sunlight in your day. Or, you can add a light therapy lamp that delivers UV light to your office, living room or anywhere else you spend the bulk of your time.
5. Failing to address your biggest risk factors
Certain risk factors may be causing your hypertension. You and your doctor likely discussed these risk factors when you were diagnosed – sometimes they’re hereditary, but in other cases they can be changed. And if you’re working to lower your blood pressure, you can’t forget about the potential causes that are at the root of this health issue.
According to the CDC, common risk factors for hypertension include a BMI of 30 or higher, a sedentary lifestyle or lack of physical activity, tobacco use and moderate alcohol consumption (one drink daily for women, two for men). You may be able to control and change these factors, and you’re making a mistake if you’re ignoring them.
For example, if you aren’t physically active, you can increase your level of activity both daily and weekly. You can similarly cut back on tobacco and alcohol, or even eliminate these factors entirely. And you can take steps to lower your BMI, like working to lose weight and sticking with a healthy diet.
How to Avoid This Mistake: Discuss potential risk factors or causes for your hypertension with your doctor and make a plan to address them. Keep these in mind as you adopt new habits or make lifestyle changes. Overall, cutting back on unhealthy habits like tobacco and alcohol use paired with positive changes like increasing your physical activity can help you take the first steps to larger overall progress.
Are you making these mistakes while trying to lower your blood pressure? If you’re concerned about or living with high blood pressure, keep reading to learn more: